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A letter to Donald Trump: Fix the Iran Deal, don’t nix it

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Washington, May 8, 2018 | comments
Written by: Rep. Lois Frankel, The Hill

Dear President Trump:

You will soon have to decide whether to renew nuclear-related sanctions on Iran. As the May 12 deadline approaches, I have some unsolicited advice for you, Mr. President: Fix the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), don’t nix it. We should remain in the deal and work with our international partners to strengthen it. Otherwise, we risk returning to a time when Iran was just months away from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability.

I initially opposed the nuclear agreement, principally because Iran’s malign actions were left unaddressed and because of its sunset clauses. These concerns are still pressing. To no one’s surprise, Iran has maintained its notorious title as the world’s most active state sponsor of terrorism by lending its support to Hezbollah and Hamas, while also propping up the Assad regime. They’ve continued testing ballistic missiles in defiance of international law, some engraved with the horrific phrase, “death to Israel.” The agreement lifts the ban on Iranian arms exports and imports in 2020; sunsets restrictions on Iran’s ballistic missile program in 2023; and eliminates most nuclear limitations by 2026. These deadlines are around the corner, and as each one approaches, the international community will be faced with the prospect of a more dangerous Iran. 

With that said, the United States negotiated this deal with our partners and Iran is by all accounts following it. The International Atomic Energy Agency has now confirmed Tehran’s compliance with the agreement no fewer than 10 times. Our intelligence community agrees. In February, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats stated that “the JCPOA has extended the amount of time Iran would need to produce enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon from a few months to about one year” and that it “has also enhanced the transparency of Iran’s nuclear activities.”

Mr. President, you are wrong to think that if we withdraw from the nuclear accord, we can negotiate a “better agreement.” What brought the Iranians to the negotiating table in the first place were the crippling multilateral sanctions imposed in concert with our partners. We gave up our financial leverage when the deal went into effect, granting Iran access to billions of dollars in previously frozen assets. If you take the U.S. out of the agreement, we would be left to re-impose those penalties without the support of the international community.

If Iran were to renege on its nuclear commitments in response to an American withdrawal, it would also pose significant proliferation concerns throughout the region and beyond. Regionally, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman recently warned that “without a doubt if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible.” Globally, a nuclear-armed North Korea remains a pivotal nonproliferation challenge and poses a direct threat to the U.S. homeland. As we prepare for a diplomatic summit that aims to dismantle Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program, what kind of message would we be signaling about the value of our diplomatic commitments?

I implore you to seriously consider French President Emanuel Macron’s proposal to negotiate a follow-on agreement that leaves the current deal in place, while addressing key flaws. This supplemental agreement should include restraining Iran’s ballistic missiles program, extending sunset clauses on Iran’s centrifuges, and constraining Iran’s destabilizing regional behavior. Let’s use this opportunity to rigorously enforce the JCPOA and at the same time rally the international community to hold Iran accountable for its non-nuclear activities.

The bottom line is that nixing the Iran nuclear deal, absent a new agreement or a credible breach of the deal, could lead to expanded Iranian nuclear enrichment and would be a dereliction of our global leadership. There is no conflict between believing that the JCPOA is inherently flawed, but that it remains in America’s – and our allies’ – best interest to keep it in place and build upon its shortcomings.

Mr. President, I urge you to exercise restraint and commit to our shared objective that Iran must never be allowed to gain a nuclear weapons capability.

Rep. Lois Frankel represents Florida's 21st District, which includes Palm Beach County, and was first elected to Congress in 2012. She serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
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